For me one of the biggest things about this trip and Kuhela has been sharing the experience with others. While this whole adventure was still more dream than reality, before even leaving for Florida, I gave my brother a gift for his 21st, a ticket valid for a trip sailing with me. It was something I hoped we could make a reality, and now four years and many miles later, it was coming about. Chatting to him on the phone one day he mentioned he had some time off from Uni coming up and the idea of him jumping on a plane sprang to life. He has been studying hard for the last four years and hasn’t had much time to get out and explore, and so this would be the perfect getaway, and for myself it would be great to have the company and a hand sailing down the coast.
On my end, after a few months of trying to figure out my next move and being unsure of which way to go, I finally made a decision and as so often happens, things started to fall into place. While out exploring around in the van I spent a bit of time in Tauranga, and while there went to have a chat to the marina and got a pretty god deal on a berth. I also met a few people and the possibility of a bit of work came up, and it just felt right. So I made the decision, booked the berth and decided to sail down and base myself out of there. As we sorted dates for flights, I was busy studying the weather and, wouldn’t you know it, the perfect weather window for the trip down was just opening up.
I was ready and waiting when Joseph landed, and we make tracks north to go get Kuhela set up for sailing. I had left things pretty much in order when so it was just a case of stocking up on food and water and tidying a few things up before looking to head off. Things continued to brilliantly fall into place as Kurt, a mate on another yacht up there, offered to drive the van down and meet us in Tauranga as his daughter lives there and would give him a chance to catch up with her, also saving us a couple days of travel up and back down again. As the sun warmed us through the crisp air we cast off lines on the incoming tide and motored down the river towards the coast. Soon after passing Whangarei heads we were greeted with SW winds at 15 knots and set sail on a beam reach for great barrier island. It was perfect sailing, Kuhela gliding along gently over the small waves as a cool breeze held sails taught and wafted us with the scent of sea and salt. God I had missed this, and felt all the worries and uncertainty of the last few months drift away with the breeze. As the sun sank below the horizon we decided to add to our contentment with a quick meal. It was the lazy man option of two-minute noodles, and somehow at the shops I though that Mexican flavor was a good idea. It didn’t take long to realize the folly in mixing Mexican and Asian. Joseph decided the fish might appreciate it more than his stomach was, while I stubbornly held on to mine, not wanting to subject the fish to the culinary disaster. Steadily we made ground towards the islands, not expecting to arrive till after midnight and took turns keeping watch, and sitting under the stars on a truly magical night, with ample light provided by a large moon overhead. I was really happy that Joseph got the chance to experience this, as sailing at night in these conditions is something deeply moving. We sailed all the way into the anchorage; gliding into the bay as the surrounding hills blocked the wind, dropped the sails and lay the anchor on the bottom, it was an amazing sail and here we were. It was so good to be at sea again and to feel Kuhela move gently below me as I drifted off to sleep.
We awoke in the morning surrounded by lush green hills, in a picturesque little bay with a beautiful day shining bright outside. After a lazy breakfast and getting the boat sorted we got the gear out and went for quick dive before pulling anchor again and heading around to a place I've wanted to get to since hearing of it months ago. Smokehouse bay is a popular little spot for cruisers and was stoked to finally get a chance to check it out myself. This amazing little set up has hot water outdoor baths, a smoker to smoke fish, showers and a place to do hand washing and lines to hang clothes. There was one other yacht there when we arrived and he was just on his way out just as we pulled up to the beach, nicely timed though as he all ready had the little stove going, heating the water for the baths. We had a look around and settled in for the arvo. Joseph ran back out to get some snacks and some warm clothes on board while I stoked the fire in the stove and chopped wood for a bonfire later. As the sun set it was only the two of us and though a few other boats did drop anchor nearby, no one else came ashore, winter cruising seems pretty good to me. We got the bath and the fire going and as the music drifted up to the stars above we took turns soaking in the steaming water and sitting gazing into the flames. Its funny the things that stick with you, but I was told of outdoor showers like this from a friend after she had done some trekking here in NZ years ago, and its stuck with me ever since. I think its one of the reasons I’ve always wanted to come here. Now, here I was soaking in steaming water under a huge starry sky, and man did it feel good. Sharing this experience with Joseph was something really special for me as well; to show him some of the outdoors and to sit and gaze at the fire with my brother, while chatting about nothing and everything was one those moments that reminds you what life is truly about.
The next morning it was an early start and we moved Kuhela over to the other bay to do the walk up to Mt. Hobson. Still not a soul to be seen other than the two of us, we left the dingy on the beach and headed up the trail and into the forest. It was a stunning walk, on a crisp, clear, winters day, and we made good time as we followed the trail over swing bridges and past some recent landslides and climbed a few stairs, then a few more, and a few more after that. The landscape was stunning, and the evidence of the historical logging operations out here were amazing lessons in Kiwi ingenuity and had work. They consisted of dams and other ways to transport the massive logs to the bays below and some info and pictures of the people that made a living this way. We made it to the top just after lunch and were treated to a 360-degree view of the island, and could see from Whangerai to the Coramandel, with not a cloud in the sky and the sharp blueness of a fine winters day all around. Worth every one of the steps to the top. We made the descent pretty easily and in good time we were back on board Kuhela relaxing and cooking dinner with anther magical night outside.
The next day saw an increase in the wind and cloud cover and we moved on down the coast to the next bay, trolling a line as we went and picking up a fish on the way for dinner. The wind continued to build and was blowing around twenty knots as we sailed in and ducked into a little bay and out of the wind. Once the boat was settled we got ready and made for shore to head to some hot springs we had heard about. Even with a little winter weather its still all about getting out exploring and enjoying what’s on offer. Turned out the pools were a bit further than we thought and were definitely ready for a soak when we got there. Luckily we met some other people there and they offered us a lift, don’t think either of us were very keen on the walk back. The wind continued to build and we soon realised that even though we were sheltered from the direct blow of it, it funneled down the gulleys in the hills and swirled around to come from every direction. That night was one of the windier ones I can remember, spent listening to the wind howl through the rigging as Kuhela did her best to stay in position as she pulled and tugged ad danced on her anchor chain. The following morning brought daylight, but not much relief in the way of wind and we pulled anchor and motor sailed out of the bay into a good 30 knots of wind from the SW and it took a while to put a few reefs in and get things settled and sailing nicely.
We were making good speed with the higher winds though and Kuhela handled it all in her stride, and was glad to give Joseph a little taste of what its like when it’s a bit windy as well. He handled it well and kept his lunch to himself this time as we sailed on towards great mercury island. Suddenly though, everything changed, it was like someone flicked a switch and the wind went from 30 knots to 5 as we sailed into the wind shadow of the Coramadel ranges. Looking back you could clearly see the line on the water of where the wind stopped, and the flat water began. We motored for a little till the wind filled back in a bit and we were soon sailing again and Pulled into Mercury Island around four in the arvo. This is a privately owned island and we didn’t go ashore but did head out to dive some of the rocks nearby the next day to pick up a feed of crayfish and say hello to a curious seal sunning himself on the rocks. The plan was to stay here till the wind swung NE and then sail overnight to Tauranga. That night the full moon rose over the hills behind us and we sat outside taking it all in, till the cold drove me inside. Joseph grabbed his sleeping bag and set up outside though, and was pretty stoked to see him loving it.
The next afternoon we pulled anchor for the last leg of the trip and were again blessed with excellent conditions as we set all sail heading south down the coast. The moon lit everything up for us and again we settled into the routine of watch, a good thing too because even with the full moon and our nav lights on a fishing boat headed straight for us and didn’t swerve until I finally got a torch and lit up our sail. Probably busy on deck and not paying attention, the reason I always keep a watch. The rest of sail down went perfectly and it was another of those nights where there is no where else in the world you would rather be. About 5 mile from the entrance the wind died again, this time as a local weather system of black dark cloud set up behind us and we started the engine and motored our way in. The timing was perfect, the early morning sun bathing the mountain that marks the entrance in early morning hues of pinks and oranges, as the sun rose to welcome us home. We dropped sail and got Kuhela sorted as we headed on towards the marina and were soon enough tied up and having brekky at the little marina café. The weather that was forecast was right on cue and by later that afternoon the wind was blowing hard and we were very glad to be where we were, tied up warm and dry, perfect weather to catch up on some sleep. The run of perfect timing continued as my phone rang later that afternoon with Kurt telling me he had arrived and was out the front with the van. Boat and van here on the same day. Perfect.
As if to make up for the perfect weather on the way down, mother nature thought it best we get a taste of true winter as well and it rained for the rest of the time that Joseph was here. That didn’t stop us getting out exploring though. After getting a few things sorted for hauling Kuhela out of the water in a week or so, we packed the van and hit the road. There are so many amazing things to do around this area, actually around the whole of NZ, and a little rain wasn’t going to stop us. The first stop was Roturua as there was something we both wanted to do there, Zorbing. For those who haven't seen this before is a huge ball that you get into and they roll you down a hill, even put warm water in for total luxury. It was epic. We had three runs down the hill a couple times each on our own on different courses, with Joseph winning the race, before jumping in for a tandem ride down. One of the most fun things I've done in a while. The weather held out for a bit so we headed out to the redwood forest for a walk, just five minutes out of town and you are engulfed by these majestic trees, its hard to describe what it is, but there is some almost intangible quality about these massive trees. Its not just the sheer size, but the almost stately manner in which they stretch to the sky, I don’t know how to fully describe what I feel when looked down upon by these giants, but I know I'm not the only one to feel this.
That afternoon we drove out to a little reserve out of town to camp up for the night and Joseph took control of the kitchen and made up some epic wraps. That’s another thing I love about NZ, is that you can go park up most places and be totally safe sleeping in your van with no one hassling you. We spent the night and got some great shots of the falls in the morning before some more exploration. We decided to head to some nearby springs, Hanamura spring bubbles straight out of the ground and flows in a shallow stream with some of the clearest water I have ever seen. Floating on the surface were ducks and swans, all suspended on this transparent carpet, while below the weeds and subaquatic plants danced hypnotically in the running water. It’s an amazing walk, surrounded by tall redwoods and leading you along the edge of the stream to finally emerge at a small viewing platform over looking the source, a deep, blue, shimmering hole in the ground. Again there is that feeling of being somewhere that is a source of life, an eden where things cannot help but spring forth and grow. Another one of those many places over here that have left me speechless.
The weather finally made its decision and brought even more rain and winter weather so we decided to get on the road and head for somewhere warm. Again NZ has this sorted and we headed on to our next stop, Lake Taupo. I had been there before and knew just the spot to spend a cold, rainy day. Natural hot springs. The last time I was here was just after doing the Tongariro crossing a few years back and had great memories of the place. We parked up and changed into wet boardies (still wet from zorbing, and not at all pleasant given the temperature) and headed down to the springs. Hours passed as we soaked in the hot water and would occasionally have to head out into the water closer to the river to cool down before dashing back to the warmth. We got chatting to a few girls there too and as we were all staying in town that night ended up going out to watch the rugby and have a few drinks. Good work Joseph.
The weather the following day was just as bleak and after brekky we had a chat about the plan of action and decided to head somewhere where the rain wouldn't be too much of an issue, underground. The caves at Waitomo are world famous, and for good reason. It is the closest thing I have ever experienced to sailing on a moonless starry night, its absolutely spectacular. In the first cave, after a tour through the amazing structures and explaining a bit about the glow worms, you board a small boat and the take you through and into the dark where you are suddenly transported into another world. The entire roof of the cave is lit up with thousand of glowing lights suspended from the ceiling. The worms dangle a sticky thread down and the bio-luminescence on this attracts small insects, which become entangled, and all the worm has to do is reel in dinner. It’s fishing really. Photography isn’t allowed in the cave unfortunately, and to be honest I wouldn’t have the skill to do it the slightest justice, the photo here in the dark (top one above) I've pinched off the net just to show what its like. In the second cave, Ruakuri, we were treated to some even more amazing structures and history, as well as an amazing man made entrance. The original entrance is closed off, as it is the burial place of one of the Maori chiefs. This respect and understanding of culture is something I think Kiwis should be pretty proud of, pretty different in other places. Funnily enough the lady selling the tickets was quite surprised to hear I wasn’t Maori, must be cause I'm so huge haha. I can add it to the list of cultures I've been mistaken as.
With no improvement in the weather and a few things left to organize for the haul out we decided to head back to Tauranga. There was one more place I wanted to stop on the way though, the blue springs. I had been there a few weeks before and the water is clear enough to rival Hanamura springs, and you can swim. This is where a lot of the bottled water comes form in New Zealand and there is a little water station that you can fill your bottles with the most amazing tasting water. Unfortunately, with all the rain over the previous days, the water was not that blue, save for a deep hole on the other bank that’s out of the main current. Joseph was a braver man than me that day and decided to go for a swim, the water here is a constant 10 degrees all year and with rain and wind it wasn’t the most inviting. Good on him though, he did stay in for a while and I'm sure he felt amazing when he got out, till hypothermia set in anyways haha. I filled a large jerry can of water for the van and we did the long walk back to the van. That afternoon we were back on board and relieving the adventures over dinner and the heater. There is still so many places to explore here and no doubt more than enough to keep my entertained.
Time flies when your having fun and suddenly it was time for Joseph to head back home to Perth, so we again jumped in the van and headed north to Auckland to catch up with Russ and Kath for dinner before dropping him to the airport the next day. Coming into Auckland we were greeted with the most torrential downpour I think I have ever experienced, 25mm of rain in one hour, and visibility of only a few feet. It’s amazing there were no accidents. Was really great to catch up with Russ and Kath again, and I always enjoy checking in on Russ’ many projects. Almost suddenly I was standing outside the van saying goodbye and Joseph was walking off to catch his plane. It was his first bug trip away from home and so good to see him and show him some of New Zealand. Seeing him with that bag on his back and his eyes a but more open as to how easy it was to jump on a plane and go, it reminded me of myself so many years ago.
The drive back down gave time to reflect on things, on the trip, time with my brother, the things we had seen, the laughs and few brotherly arguments we had. It was another step in fulfilling my dream, and am important one. For him to cash in that ticket and come sail and explore with Kuhela and I was another thing I had dreamt of, and now it had happened. In some ways it freed me up to make some of the decisions I have made about my next moves, and will be writing some more on that soon. I came back home to an empty boat, and had that mixed feeling of enjoying my space and missing the company, its always like that when people leave. I guess the reality of it, and this has been shown to me so many times over this trip, is that its about sharing with others and the time we are gifted to experience things with friends and family. So stoked I have been able to share this with both.